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Palliative care environments for patient, family and staff well-being: an ethnographic study of non-standard design
  1. Rebecca McLaughlan1 and
  2. Emma Kirby2
  1. 1 School of Architecture and Built Environment, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2 Centre for Social Research in Health, Faculty of Arts, Design & Architecture, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rebecca McLaughlan, School of Architecture & the Built Environment, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia; rebecca.mclaughlan{at}


Objective There is an increased expectation that contemporary hospital design will improve clinical outcomes and patient experiences and support staff well-being. In response, this study examined innovative approaches in the design of in-patient palliative care facilities.

Methods An ethnographic study comprised the identification and analysis of 30 architectural precedents, 24 qualitative, semistructured interviews with key stakeholders and 11 site visits, during which field notes and photographs were taken. Data were analysed using the framework approach, to identify design solutions that move beyond standard practice, to offer insight into the possibilities and challenges of processes of design or refurbishment in palliative care settings.

Results Three thematic areas of focus were derived from the analysis: (1) planning solutions that support privacy plus connection; (2) enhancing comfort through the use of non-standard materials—and managing the risks associated with those and (3) shaking off tradition in hospital design.

Conclusions Myriad constraints resist innovation within the contemporary construction of hospital and hospice facilities. Drawing on a series of real-world examples, our findings point to the value of broad consultation and collaboration throughout the design process in achieving design solutions that go beyond standard practice for the benefit for patients, families and staff.

  • supportive care
  • quality of life
  • hospice care
  • hospital care

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  • Contributors RM was responsible for the conception, design and implementation of this research. RM and EK were both involved in the data analysis and drafting of the paper. Both authors have reviewed and approved the final version for publication.

  • Funding This research was funded under an Australian Research Council Australian Discovery Early Career Award (DE190100730) funded by the Australian Government.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.